Bear aware: living safely with large carnivores Grizzly bear Bears Buckrail - Jackson Hole, news
Grizzly 610 and her pair of two-year-old cubs have been spotted by EcoTour Adventures several times this spring on wildlife safaris of Grand Teton National Park. (JH EcoTour Adventures)

JACKSON HOLE, WYO –  Is that a grizzly or a black bear up ahead on the trail? Knowing how to tell the difference could be a matter of life and death. A black bear encounter requires different behavior than a grizzly, and vice-versa.

Wyoming Game and Fish is offering an informative workshop Monday called “Living in Large Carnivore Country.”

“The workshops are designed to provide people with good, practical information on how to prevent conflicts and what to do in an encounter,” said Mark Gocke, public information specialist with WGFD. “We want to share the best information available to prevent a conflict, for both backcountry users and homeowners.”

Jh EcoTour Adventures wildlife guide Laura Krusheski snapped this photo of a howling wolf from the Lower Gros Venture Pack on a spring wildlife tour in Grand Teton National Park, just minutes from the town of Jackson, WY. ( Laura Krusheski, JH EcoTour Adventures)

Bears aren’t the only large carnivore people may encounter in the backcountry. The workshop will also include mountain lions and wolves.

“It’s quite rare for a wolf to attack a person, but there can be other types of conflicts, such as with domestic dogs,” Gocke said. “With wolf encounters becoming more common in northwest Wyoming, we’ve added some information on that topic as well.”

Black or griz?

Jackson Hole EcoTour Adventures has a very informative website page with plenty of photographs to help illustrate the particular characteristics that set the two species of bear apart.

First, it’s important to know what you can’t rely on, and that’s color. Grizzlies get their name from the “grizzled” appearance of their silvertip coat. It’s a feature usually quite prominent with the species but not always a reliable feature. Black bears are often black in color but can also be cinnamon, greyish, or reddish in color as well.

Overall size is also misleading. Older black bears can get quite large—as big as juvenile grizzlies.

One tell-tale sign of a grizzly—if one is afforded a profile view—is the distinct hump at the shoulder blade. Also, look for a “dished” face from eyes to nose, where a side-view of the black bear’s face will appear more in straight line.

From straight on, note the ears. In general, grizzly bears have smaller (shorter), more rounded ears that are spaced closer together. A black bear’s ears have a little more point to them and stand up taller.

Note the prominent hump, dished face, rounded ears, and long straight claws. All signs of the grizzly bear. (JH EcoTour Adventures)

Okay, bear identified. Now what?

Gocke will explain in more detail during the workshop what exactly a hiker, for instance, should do when encountering a bear. Pepper spray has been proven quite effective but knowing when, if, and how it should be deployed is crucial.

Demeanor is also key. With a grizzly bear, your approach should be nonthreatening. Don’t look the bear in the eyes, turn profile rather than square up to the bear, which could be viewed as a challenging posture. In the event of conflict, ball up, protect your vitals and do not fight back. Grizzly bears are almost always content with believing a perceived threat has been neutralized.

Black bears, for the most part, require a more assertive posturing and fighting back is recommended by most experts.

Learn more at the workshop. Monday, April 24, from 6-8 pm at the Teton County Library.